Tampa Bay Rays sweep Miami Marlins in two-game series

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Miami Marlins starting pitcher Cody Poteet (72) reacts after allowing the Tampa Bay Rays five runs in the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, May 25, 2022 in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo /Chris O’Meara)

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Before starting a two-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly was asked on Tuesday what he thought was the biggest challenge of playing in the stadium.

“Their club is probably the biggest challenge,” Mattingly joked.

He’s not wrong. The Rays have been perennial playoff contenders lately. They’ve made the playoffs each of the past three years, won American League East each of the past two seasons, and qualified for the World Series in 2020.

The Marlins strive to be in the position of the Rays, a low-payroll team that is consistently considered one of the best in the league.

The last two games show the Marlins still have some way to go in their quest to catch up with their local rival.

The Rays swept the Marlins in their two-game series, with Miami losing 5-4 on Wednesday after opening the short set with a 4-0 loss on Tuesday.

Miami has now lost 16 of its last 18 to Tampa Bay since 2019, when the Rays’ current streak of playoff appearances began.

“We have to improve,” Mattingly said ahead of Wednesday’s game. “Their club is booming. We’ve come down. Hopefully we’re on the right path and can make it more competitive.

The Marlins (18-24) briefly made it competitive on Wednesday despite an early drop. The Rays (26-17) scored five runs off Cody Poteet in the first inning on a Wander Franco RBI double, Randy Arozarena two-run double and Harold Ramirez two-run. Poteet settled in after that, striking out eight of the last 10 Rays batters he faced before the bullpen followed with five scoreless innings.

Miami then recovered three of those points with a rally in the fourth inning. Jorge Soler threw a solo home run to right center — his team-leading ninth of the season — past a double tackle from Jacob Stallings Avisail Garcia and Brian Anderson, who both singled.

The deficit was reduced to one in the ninth when Anderson hit a first single, came third on a two-goal error on a Bryan De La Cruz fly ball and scored when Miguel Rojas reached on a Wander pitch error Frank. A two-out walk from Garrett Cooper charged the bases, but Jesus Aguilar hit swinging to end the game.

The Marlins had other key scoring opportunities that fell through.

In the second, they had runners at first and second with two out in the top of the second after Anderson and Jesus Sanchez walked. Rojas then hit a right single. Third baseman Al Pedrique stopped Anderson at third. Sanchez got past second and was tagged trying to come back to end the threat.

In the seventh, Sanchez hit a double to right center, but was blocked as the next three batters registered outs.

And in the eighth, what appeared to be Soler’s second home run of the game that hugged the left-field foul post was called a foul.

It was an improvement over the Marlins’ performance on Tuesday, when they were shut out for the third time this season and recorded just five hits, but still not enough to earn a win over the Rays.

Injuries hampering the Marlins

It’s worth remembering that the Marlins were without three of their best players on both days of the Rays series. Jazz Chisholm Jr. came on the bench on Tuesday and Wednesday while struggling with a left hamstring injury suffered on Sunday. Joey Wendle (right hamstring strain) and Jon Berti (returning to baseball form after testing positive for COVID-19) are on the injured list.

However, all three are set to return.

Chisholm fielded ground balls and practiced batting on Wednesday after doing neither on Tuesday. Wendle and Berti both played in rehab games with the Single A Jupiter Hammerheads on Tuesday and Wednesday and could be cleared to return as soon as Friday when the Marlins open a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves on Friday at Truist Park.

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The Marlins placed right-handed pitcher Anthony Bender on the 15-day injured list with a stiff back on Wednesday and selected infielder Willians Astudillo to fill Bender’s spot on the active roster.

An update from Max Meyer: The plan is for him to start throwing from flat ground on Thursday. He remains on the minor league injured list with ulnar nerve irritation.

This story was originally published May 25, 2022 9:45 p.m.

Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators’ athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.